Short Reads for Tall Kids
Picture books in fifth grade? Yes! They are great models for writing.
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8
Everyone knows that good writers must also be good readers. But the reading doesn't have to be limited to the chapter books in your grade's curriculum. Picture books-yes, the oversized ones in the children's section with “written and illustrated” credits on the cover-are perfect models for teaching the 6+1 traits of writing. Here are seven terrific picture books-one for each trait-that belong on your classroom library shelves.
Target Trait: IDEAS
The Book: Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street, by Roni Schotter (Orchard, 1997). The tale of a young author named Eva who wanders her neighborhood, saying, “I have nothing to write about.”
How To Teach It: After reading this story, give students a checklist of different stations around the school, such as the media center, the gym, or the art room, and tell them to check off each one as they visit it for a few minutes. Ask students to record what they observe at each station: the sights, the sounds, the feel, the people. Remind them to follow the advice of Eva's neighbors who suggest that she “write what you know,” “observe carefully and don't neglect details,” and “use your imagination.” Afterward, have your students write “Nothing Ever Happens at [the name of your school]…” stories of their own. You can also ask students to repeat this task at home, noting little things about everyday life on their streets.
3 More “Ideas” Books: Mama Played Baseball, by David A. Adler (Harcourt, 2003); The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg (Houghton Mifflin, 1985); Anno's Mysterious Multiplying Jar, by Masaichiro and Mitsumasa Anno (Philomel, 1983).
Target Trait: ORGANIZATION
The Book: The Secret Shortcut, by Mark Teague (Scholastic, 1996). Although Wendell and Floyd use tall tales to explain why they are late to school, it is when they decide to reform their bad habit with a shortcut that some real obstacles get in the way of punctuality.
How To Teach It: Discuss the things that happen to Wendell and Floyd on their shortcut to school. Then divide the class into small groups and have them draw a map creating a brand new shortcut for the characters. Have the students create new “Secret Shortcut” stories based on the maps. You can guide their writing by discussing the sequencing words that help organize events of the story, such as before, after, then, next, and during. Encourage students to write at least three detailed sentences to describe each event on the map. Invite students to share their “Secret Shortcut” stories with the class!
3 More “Organization” Books: The Magic Fan, by Keith Baker (Voyager, 1984); When Sophie Gets Angry-Really, Really Angry…, by Molly Bang (Scholastic, 1999); Three Cheers for Catherine the Great!, by Cari Best (D.K., 1999).
Target Trait: VOICE
The Book: Voices in the Park, by Anthony Browne (D.K., 1998). What better way to illustrate how voice can change radically, depending on point of view, than Browne's story told from four different perspectives-a domineering woman, a depressed man, a lonely boy, and a sweet young girl?
How To Teach It: Read the story aloud and then discuss each of the four narrators, listing their personality traits on an overhead. Reinforce the lesson by trying this writing exercise: Read the following passage with little or no inflection (you might want to also put this on a transparency so the students can read along): “Rip in the Pants, by a fifth grader. Just about a week ago my teacher had a rip in his pants. It was really funny. I didn't see it right away, but someone told me. Then I saw it and wanted to laugh but I held it in. Then someone told him and everyone started to laugh. Then he went home to change. The end.” Discuss possible points of view for the writing, such as the student, the principal, the teacher, even the pants! Divide the class into small groups. Assign a different point of view to each group and ask the group members to brainstorm how the voice would change according to their assignment, then have the group rewrite the story in the new voice.
3 More “Voice” Books: The Babe & I, by David A. Adler (Harcourt, 1999); Wolf!, by Becky Bloom (Orchard, 1999); Gleam and Glow, by Eve Bunting (Harcourt, 2001).
Target Trait: WORD CHOICE
The Book: The Wolf Who Cried Boy, by Bob Hartman (Putnam, 2002). A delightful twist on an old tale.
How to Teach It: Make copies of the “Boys-n-berry Pie with Fried Chipmunk Crust” recipe for each student. Discuss the elements of a successful recipe such as a list of the specific ingredients, quantities, and a set of step-by-step directions. Divide students into small groups, and have them come up with four more “boy” dishes. Have the groups share aloud the dishes they invent, and list the new dishes on chart paper as they are described. Finally, ask the groups to write out recipes for two new dishes, using as much creative language as possible, while still being clear and well-organized.
3 More “Word Choice” Books: More Than Anything Else, by Marie Bradby (Scholastic, 1995); Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster, by Debra Frasier (Harcourt, 2000); Lincoln, by Russell Freedman (Clarion, 1987).
Target Trait: SENTENCE FLUENCY
The Book: The Web Files, by Margie Palatini (Hyperion, 2001). This detective story, filled with short choppy sentences and alliteration to tie your tongue, sends readers on a mystery-solving adventure.
How To Teach It: Create a reader's theater script for the story by extracting lines of dialogue from the book. Then cast each role to a student. Some of the parts contain tricky, tongue-twister passages, so assign those to readers who have more confidence. Let students read their parts silently before asking them to read aloud. Next, line performers up at the front of the room and have them read the script from beginning to end, with power and expression. When finished, pass out scripts to the students in the audience so everyone has a copy to read and discuss. Ask the students to assess the performances. Make sure they give reasons to back up their critiques.
3 More “Sentence Fluency” Books: Gathering the Sun, by Alma Flor Ada (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1994); Behold the Trees, by Sue Alexander (Scholastic, 2001); Hide and Snake, by Keith Baker (Harcourt, 1991).
Target Trait: CONVENTIONS
The Book: Punctuation Takes a Vacation, by Robin Pulver (Holiday House, 2003). This charming book helps students realize the importance of using punctuation in their writing.
How To Teach It: Talk with students about the importance of punctuation: why we need it and why it makes a piece easier to read. Ask, “What do you think would happen if punctuation marks disappeared and we didn't use them anymore?” Then, read the story aloud. Have the students write and illustrate postcards to each punctuation mark, asking it to come back and explaining why they miss it. Extend the activity by inviting students to write a piece based on Punctuation Takes a Vacation, focusing on parts of speech. For example, what if all the nouns, verbs, or prepositions went on vacation? What would our writing look like without them? What would we miss most? You can repeat this activity for spelling, capitalization, and paragraphing.
3 More “Conventions” Books: Dearly, Nearly, Insincerely: What Is an Adverb?, by Brian Gable (Illustrator, 2003); I and You and Don't Forget Who: What Is a Pronoun?, by Brian Gable (Illustrator, 2004); A Mink, a Fink, a Skating Rink: What is a Noun?, by Jenya Prosmitsky (Illustrator, 2001).
Target Trait: PRESENTATION
The Book: Over the Moon, by Rachel Vail (Scholastic, 1998). In this comic-book style story, they're filming a nursery rhyme, but the cow doesn't understand that she's supposed to jump over the moon, not through it or under it.
How To Teach It: Point out that the dialogue is in text boxes, a format students may recognize if they read comic strips. Then, assign small groups a different nursery rhyme. Ask each group to figure out a twist to their rhyme; for example, what if Humpty Dumpty hadn't fallen off the wall, or if the Little Old Lady who lives in the shoe was evicted because she has so many children? Give the groups time to write their new nursery rhymes and to revise them. Have students write the final versions of the nursery rhymes on drawing paper, using dialogue boxes to frame the spoken parts. Encourage creativity to make the dialogue boxes as effective as possible. Display the pieces on a bulletin board for all students to enjoy. Seeing their work on display will motivate children even more to continue writing!
3 More “Presentation” Books: The Important Book, by Margaret Wise Brown (HarperCollins, 1999); Home Run, by Robert Burleigh (Harcourt, 1998); Who's Got Game? The Ant or the Grasshopper?, by Toni Morrison and Slade Morrison (Scribner, 2003).
Adapted by Jessica E. Rosevear from Using Picture Books to Teach Writing, by Ruth Culham (Scholastic, 2004).